Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges

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Given the time of year, and last week’s Quays-themed post, this seemed like a good follow-up. Opera North’s production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges was broadcast by the BBC during the Christmas holiday of 1989. The opera isn’t quite as saccharine a Christmas entertainment as The Nutcracker Suite but the libretto is still light-hearted fare, being based on a Neopolitan fairy tale in which the son of the King of Clubs is afflicted by melancholy after reading too much tragic poetry. The King stages an entertainment to cheer the Prince but the only thing that makes him laugh is the witch, Fata Morgana, falling over and revealing her underclothes. This humiliation provokes the witch into cursing the Prince to fall in love with three oranges. These he immediately sets off to find, and thereby hangs the tale. Richard Jones directed the production, with the English Northern Philharmonia providing the music. The opera is also sung in English, the translation being by David Lloyd-Jones.

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The stage decor for the Opera North production was designed by the Quay Brothers, one of several operas they worked on around this time. The opera may be a comic one but the design emphasis is on gloom and decay, a feature that extends to Sue Blane’s costumes, many of which seem to have been styled with the Quays’ films in mind. In addition to a Nosferatu-like Leander (the sinister Prime Minister), a company of children appear from time to time wearing masks which make them look like the Quays’ doll-headed puppets. The chorus, meanwhile, wear antique gas-masks of a style which people would now refer to as steampunk. The most overt reference to the Quays films occurs during the King’s entertainment when a vast mutant creature is wheeled onto the stage, the creature’s head being the colossal cousin of the twitching cyclops from Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies. The cumulative effect of the grotesquery combined with absurd comedy is of an opera equivalent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, all of which makes me wonder what the BBC’s Gormenghast might have been like if the corporation had hired the Quays and Sue Blane to work the same magic they do here. (There is a Gormenghast opera by Irmin Schmidt but I’m not keen on the music and what I’ve seen of the staging it looks a lot less like Peake than this one does.)

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Decor aside, the most notable feature of this production, and the broadcast itself, was the scratch-and-sniff card which was provided to every member of the audience, and to any viewers who bought a copy of the BBC’s Listener magazine before the screening. Each time a numbered card appeared on the stage the audience had to scratch and sniff the relevant panel. The scents—which include orange, of course—are less offensive than those for John Waters’ Polyester (1981) although the audience is still surprised into sniffing the farts of the demon, Farfarello.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Punch and Judy, Michel de Ghelderode, and the Brothers Quay
The mystery of trams
Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013
Holzmüller and the Quays
Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Weekend links 394

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Britain’s Royal Mint acknowledges this year’s bicentenary of the publication of Frankenstein with a commemorative £2 coin.

• A trailer for The Green Fog, a film by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson, which uses clips from over 200 films set in and around San Francisco to create a collage companion to (and critique of) Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. John DeFore reviewed the film for The Hollywood Reporter.

• Downloadable sound files and utilities for the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument. Should you require it, the file containing the orchestra stab that was a feature of so much pop music in the 1980s is ORCH5. (Click on the “Library/Disk” listing then click “Extract” to download the samples.)

• Radio at the Internet Archive: the BBC adaptations of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan and Gormenghast (both adapted by Brian Sibley in 1984); and 554 Sherlock Holmes radio shows.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 523 by Scanner, RA Podcast 605 by Chris SSG, and Secret Thirteen Mix 241 by Jaroska.

• At Discogs: a list of “Experiments, gimmick and concept albums, bands and labels“.

Patrick Cowley The Ultimate Master Megamix

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Karen Black Day.

Events In Dense Fog (1978) by Brian Eno | Fog Animal (2005) by Deaf Center | In The Fog I (2011) by Tim Hecker

Bookmark: Mervyn Peake

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Another not-so-old TV documentary. It’s good to keep finding these as I have no means at the moment of viewing all the video tapes I’ve kept. Bookmark is (or was) a BBC series about the lives of various writers. This edition concerns author and artist Mervyn Peake, and was broadcast in 1998, shortly before the BBC screened their flawed dramatisation of the Gormenghast books.

Peake’s three children—Sebastian, Fabian and Clare—all recall life with their father, while other contributors, Quentin Crisp among them, discuss his work, his experiences during the Second World War, and life on the island of Sark. The narrator is Julian Glover, and the readings are by Simon Russell Beale. The catastrophic collapse of Peake’s health that occurred when he’d barely reached middle age means a journey through his biography is always a sombre business, but it does make the scale of his achievements seem all the more remarkable. The film is 48-minutes long, and may be viewed here.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Web by Joan Ashworth
Peake’s glassblowers
Mervyn Peake in Coronation Street
The Worlds of Mervyn Peake
A profusion of Peake
Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs
Peake’s Pan
Buccaneers #1
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput
The Illustrators of Alice

I:MAGE: An Exhibition of Esoteric Artists

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El Trigono de las lesiones (2010) by Cristina Francov.

I:MAGE is an exhibition of occult-inspired art which opens a week on Sunday, 19th May at the Store Street Gallery, Bloomsbury, London. As exhibitions go it’s modest in scale but with an impressive roster of contributors old and new: Agostino Arrivabene, Ithell Colquhoun, Denis Forkas Kostromitin, Steffi Grant, Orryelle, David Chaim Smith, Michael Bertiaux, Andrew Chumbley, Cristina Francov, Barry William Hale, Francesco Parisi, Austin Osman Spare, Jesse Bransford, Peter Dyde, Rik Garrett, Noko, Residue, and Michael Strum. A few examples of the work on display are shown here, some of which will be available for purchase.

The event is being organised by Fulgur Esoterica, and their website has details of some related events including John Constable’s one-man play, Spare (about artist Austin Osman Spare), a one-off performance which will be held at Treadwell’s, London, on the 24th. This catches my attention because Constable was responsible for the acclaimed theatre adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast which David Glass and company staged in the 1990s. It’s always good to find one’s favourite people joined through these lateral connections.

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The Earth Magic Series (2012) by Rik Garrett.

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Steffi Grant.

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Demon by Denis Forkas Kostromitin.

The Web by Joan Ashworth

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Another animated gem, The Web (1987) is an eighteen-minute film based on Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels which dramatises the lethal duel between Flay and Swelter. Director Joan Ashworth reduces the cast to manservant, cook, and bedridden earl, no doubt for reasons of economy since the film was originally a student work. Economy or not, for me this has always captured more of the flavour of the books than the BBC’s well-intended but ultimately unsatisfying television adaptation. Watch The Web here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Peake’s glassblowers
Mervyn Peake in Coronation Street
The Worlds of Mervyn Peake
A profusion of Peake
Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs
Peake’s Pan
Buccaneers #1
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput
The Illustrators of Alice